NEW YORK -- Marian McPartland, a renowned jazz pianist and host of the National Public Radio show “Piano Jazz,” has died at the age of 95, NPR said Wednesday.
McPartland died of natural causes Tuesday night at her Port Washington home on Long Island, said Anna Christopher Bross, a spokeswoman for NPR.
Over a career that spanned more than six decades, McPartland became a fixture in the jazz world as a talented musician and well-loved radio personality.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2007, the 89-year-old said she saw no reason to retire.
“Retire? Why retire? I’ve got a job, I’m making money, and I like what I do. Why retire?” she asked. “I think I’ll jump out of a cake, or something.”
Born Margaret Marian Turner in England, she began playing classical piano at the age of 3. At 17, she was accepted to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music. She left in her third year to play piano with a touring vaudeville act — to the chagrin of her parents, who she said were “horrified,” and a professor who called popular music “rubbish.”
During World War II, while playing for Allied troops with the USO and its British equivalent, she met her husband, Chicago cornetist Jimmy McPartland. He died in 1991.
The couple came to live in New York in 1953, and McPartland landed a gig in a trio at the Hickory House, a bustling jazz hub on 52nd Street where she played intermittently for 10 years, brushing elbows with such greats as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
McPartland recorded more than 50 albums for the Concord Jazz label and played in venues across the country. She also turned her keen ears toward her contemporaries, writing articles and essays that immortalized the people and places of the jazz world in the 1950s and ‘60s.
In one essay, included in McPartland’s collected works, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” (1975), she wrote about her experiences as a woman trying to break into the jazz scene in the ‘50s, striving to be taken seriously by male musicians unaccustomed to playing with women.
“Once a man stood at the bar watching me intently, and when the set was finished he came over and said with a smile, ‘You know, you can’t be a respectable woman the way you play piano,”’ she wrote. “For some reason or another, this struck me as a great compliment.”
In 1978, McPartland brought her talent for composition and status as a jazz insider to radio, and began hosting the Peabody Award-winning “Piano Jazz.”
On the air, she and her guests sat at separate pianos, reminiscing, ad-libbing, and playing duets and solos. She hosted hundreds of jazz professionals, including Ray Brown, Susannah McCorkle and Eddie Palmieri.
Charming, energetic, and always ready for a musical adventure, McPartland was well-suited to the role of live radio host. She told the AP in a 2000 interview that she wasn’t thrown off when a guest changed keys in the middle of a show.
“I’m not afraid, for the most part, of anything,” she said. “Somebody said, ‘You’re like someone who rides a bucking bronco. You’ll ride anything that comes along.”’
In 2007, she performed in South Carolina the premiere of her own symphonic work, “A Portrait of Rachel Carson,” inspired by the author’s 1962 environmental book “Silent Spring.”
“I can’t walk. I’m in miserable pain. But at the piano, I don’t feel a thing,” she said during an appearance at a University of South Carolina master class before the performance.
McPartland continued to tour and perform into her 80s, retaining “her fetching and feathery sense of swing, sage economy and deep appreciation for essential melodic purity,” according to a Daily Variety review of a Lincoln Center performance in January 2001.
“McPartland sure knows how to illuminate a line with lean poetic phrasing,” reviewer Robert L. Daniels wrote. “There is wisdom in her fingers.”
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
Sign the guestbook for Marian McPartland here.
In this 2007 file photo, Marian McPartland talks with students at the University of South Carolina during a master class at the School of Music in Columbia. McPartland, 95, the legendary jazz pianist and host of the National Public Radio show "Piano Jazz," died of natural causes Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 at her Port Washington home on Long Island, NY.×